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Σάββατο, 25 Ιουλίου 2015

Half-heartedly

Annie Hall: Sometimes I ask myself how I΄d stand up under torture. 

Alvy Singer: You? You kiddin΄? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale΄s charge card, you΄d tell ΄em everything.

The phrasing of the referendum’s question is clearly distant from the real, objective stakes of the matter. This follows from the fact that the government continued negotiations until Wednesday when channels were cut off. Thus the precise text on which we will be voting only represents the troika’s approach, which seems to remain essentially the same despite minor changes.
The “YES” side has some relatively clear characteristics: it believes that accepting the creditors’ proposal will bring us back to normalcy – a nasty, frigid, sour normalcy, but at least it will bring us back to normalcy. I assume that this is true for those who still continue to have the benefit of some sort of normalcy, who haven’t been reduced to poverty. But I wouldn’t want to assert that this applies only to the comfortably well-off or to the business class. It is also the case for citizens who haven’t been persuaded by the “NO” side’s rhetoric. I’m referring in good faith to fellow citizens and friends who mistrust that rhetoric, because otherwise the idea that we calmly deliberate about the rights of Samaras and Venizelos when analyzing the situation is infuriating. What I mean is that in their case their sympathy for the pensioners or the unemployed is so hypocritical that it makes your skin crawl. And that things are generally easier when you just go and side with the strong. This is essentially how it is when one “joins the program.” There’s no longer any need to think about what you should say or do. The harsh reality serves it all up for you, and you are but its humble mouthpiece: you cry out “such is life!”, calmly carry on, and sign bailout deals on the dotted line. The worst part: after so many years of political corruption, you have all the media channels there by your side to bang on about how SYRIZA bankrupted the country. And afterwards the prospect that the very same people will come back as saviors makes you want to move to another planet.

I turn now to the second group. The fundamental problem with a “NO” vote is that, despite the Prime Minister’s address, what exactly will happen afterwards is unclear. The issue on the table is not a choice between the proposals of SYRIZA and the troika, which would make for a legitimate question. SYRIZA tried to secure a deal even up till Wednesday. Given that this agreement is wracked by enormous pressures, and much more immediate ones than the (still potential) pressures faced by the Euro, there are very few reasons to believe that it will ultimately bear the imprint of the left, even if it contains provisions for debt relief.

The Prime Minister, insistently denying a break with our creditors, manages to appear permanently on the defensive. His staff are asked how the banks will open if they don’t have the support of the European Central Bank’s Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) – in other words, if we’re not on a “bailout” program – and their responses are always hopelessly vague. They are asked what exactly the objective will be after the referendum, if they win, and they answer “we’ll negotiate.” And how long can this negotiating last with the banks closed? Is there some aspect of the negotiation which suggests that time is on our side? People are outraged at the prospect of the referendum endangering our European future. I think they’re wrong, that they’re shooting at the wrong target, but what I believe is of little importance. Yet again, time is not working in favor of the government. As far as I understand you don’t start a war with ambivalence. You can’t enter into the ring and then wonder if perhaps you really ought to have become an architect. You’re in the ring. You declared that your aim was to oppose austerity, and to build a front with movements from other countries. Why shouldn’t the other side do their best to knock you out?

The only solution to these difficult questions is, I fear, inasmuch as I have a say and insofar as I understand, a national currency. I don’t see dignity as an abstract concept divorced from economics. If we think that a return to a national currency means that things will be worse but our people will maintain their sense of dignity, I don’t know who could possibly be persuaded by such an account. What I think, and what thepressproject discussed from the moment it was created, is that the Euro per se leads to an inevitable widening of the social inequality gap because this is a system with a neoliberal political agenda.

Any political plan claiming to enforce equality policies must presuppose the shock of an exit. The difficulties will last for months, but ultimately they will lead to better living standards for working people. This is a solution that, since the beginning of the crisis, has been put forward by authoritative economists. Of course scholarly and political opinion on the matter is divided – so I’m not saying that whoever disagrees is a traitor, idiot, or a fat cat, but that this is what is at stake. I understand that many refuse to take these kinds of leaps into the unknown, in which case we must also admit that a critique of bail-out terms and austerity measures is senseless. But if it does have sense, this is it.

At this moment the government lumbers from one mistake to another. The Prime Minister admitted that their calculation that the creditors would give in was incorrect. This was not a marginal evaluation, but a fundamental premise on which the idea that successful negotiations could take place within the Euro rested. This was the meaning of the notorious “there’s not even a one in a million chance that Merkel will say no” statement by our Prime Minister. To this let’s add the shared confession of the ministers who participated in the negotiations on 20 February of mistakes they chalked up to inexperience: they accepted spoken assurances and signed an agreement without a provision for financing. They said then that they had bought time, but it seems clear that time favors the strong – not us. Throughout this entire process Syriza has been tragically ensnared in an erroneous political assessment, an assessment which the Prime Minister acknowledged had been mistaken: that the other side would give in.

At this point a “NO” vote inspires enthusiasm in no one, because it doesn’t even supply with enthusiasm the very people who propose it. It’s defensive and awkward, especially because it’s not honest. It’s a rather cowardly rupture, which playacts simultaneously at a rupture and at acquiescence, depending on the audience and the situation. What’s more, everyone knows that the cushion we’ll be landing on after the probable rejection of the creditors’ proposal consists of measures that, for the umpteenth time, are described as “regrettably recessionary.” Given, however, that the alternative solution is unconditional capitulation to the creditors and their like, I think that whoever has striven up till now to overthrow austerity policies can do nothing else but vote against them. However half-heartedly.

www.thepressproject.gr

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